No space for our taonga
Wellington is running out of space for some of New Zealand’s most important artefacts.
New Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin has been warned by officials that Archives NZ will run out of storage space for taonga in 2020, and the National Library by 2030.
Between them, the two institutions hold $1.7 billion worth of national treasures. The figure is growing, according to briefing papers Martin received from the Department of Internal Affairs when she took office after the general election.
Taonga include the likes of the Treaty of Waitangi, the women’s suffrage petition, the 1835 Declaration of Independence, David Lange’s notes from the 1985 Oxford Union debate, and original writings by Katherine Mansfield, as well as countless government and other documents, publications, and artefacts.
The briefing given to Martin shows Archives NZ, in Mulgrave St, is ‘‘at the end of its service life’’ and below seismic resilience standards.
Pressure on storage is now ‘‘critical’’, and it has put a temporary suspension on all physical transfers to the Wellington facility.
‘‘Critical infrastructure issues are compromising our ability to effectively preserve our documentary heritage, and to ensure ongoing access,’’ the papers say.
Historian Tony Simpson said it was no surprise that the two institutions were nearing capacity.
Every book published in New Zealand was meant to have two copies in the National Library, and publishing rates had exploded in recent years.
‘‘What used to be a trickle has become an absolute avalanche.’’
If the institutions were forced to cut back public access to taonga, it could make life ‘‘very difficult’’ for researchers, who relied upon them.
However, the fact that many files were now online or on microfiche meant there was still some access available.
The briefing documents say the previous Government invested $10.1 million for planning on how to deal with the capacity and resilience issues at both properties but decisions were needed about what to do next.
Peter Murray, deputy chief executive of information and knowledge services at Internal Affairs, confirmed yesterday: ‘‘Archives NZ is practically full and is no longer accepting transfers from government agencies who continue to hold them until capacity is available at Archives NZ.
‘‘If there is an emergency issue, Archives NZ has capacity at our Auckland site, and also will have capacity in Christchurch from mid-2018.’’
He said the Mulgrave St building met between 60 and 70 per cent of the new building standard, and was not classified as earthquakeprone.
However, this year’s Budget had provided funding for preliminary planning to ‘‘increase resilience’’, and further work would inform Budget 2018.
‘‘The contents held at Archives NZ are being well maintained. Three important taonga are also stored at the National Library of New Zealand in state-of-the-art conservation cases as part of the ... He Tohu exhibition.’’
These were the Treaty, the suffrage petition, and the Declaration of Independence.
In a separate briefing to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who holds the arts, culture and heritage portfolio, Te Papa points out it has moved a ‘‘great deal of our collection out of Wellington’’, because of earthquake risks.
Martin confirmed the Budget included money for Internal Affairs ‘‘to explore options for Archives NZ and the National Library’’.
‘‘I’ve had one briefing from the department about the issues, and I’ll be getting further advice and looking at the different options.’’
Between them, the National Library, right, and Archives NZ, above, hold $1.7 billion worth of national treasures, including the original Treaty of Waitangi document, below, photos and letters from author Katherine Mansfield, as well as many thousands of books.